Tue Greenfort

What New Products Have to Say

In recent years, Tue Greenfort has addressed ecological issues, primarily in the area of water and oil resources. Here, he also consistently formulates a critique of environmental destruction caused by capitalistic modes of operation. His installations are intended as both subtle and humorous proposals for action.

Diffuse Einträge - 2007, modified manure spreading machine, 100 liter tank filled with iron(III)-chloride, water fountain Container - 17.600 Liter, Container dimension - diameter 2 meter, length 5, 25 meter; Exhibition view: Skulptur Projekte, Münster, 2007, Tue Greenfort; © Photo: Roman Mensing artdoc.de

In a few of your works, you point to possibilities for positive action: turning down air-conditioners, driving electric cars, using green electricity. In others, you present the complex interconnections between industrialised modes of production and their negative consequences. How do you conceive of the functions of your work?

For me, my artistic practice is an important extension of the classical conception of art in which art has only an aesthetic function. Last year, I created a new entrance for the South London Gallery at the rear side of the gallery. In the past there probably already had been an entrance on the parking side. We recreated it by breaking through a wall, building a staircase and hanging up a flag on the neighbouring piece of land. The point of departure for me was a discussion about the high rate of crime in South London.

Sceaux Garden Estate Entrance - 2009, site specific installation, format variable, Tue Greenfort; © Photo: Andy Stag, Courtesy South London Gallery

Many visitors to the gallery come in taxis and have them wait outside. I actually wanted to close the front entrance so that everybody would have to drive past the blocks of flats. City life is often bound up with interests that regulate social behaviour. Although rational argumentation is used, in reality the situation has much more to do with control. Where utilisation of urban space is concerned, the individual is treated as a citizen and consumer. This leads to the question of how one defines oneself as a citizen in the first place. But only a very few citizens ask themselves this question.

Can a current phenomenon like Urban Gardening enable this discussion?

Urban Gardening is a very specific form of action in public space. I find the reasons interesting, but for me, use of public space entails the right to express one’s opinion and to spend time there without pressure to consume. Sometimes one can sit down, but then it’s uncomfortable. Urban Gardening is an important tool for thematising these issues. But I’d really like to discuss them on more fundamental levels. How are parks designed? How is mobility arranged for? Today, cities are run like business models in which revenue must come in. They are not defined in terms of their function for their citizens.

Where do you see an interface with ecological issues?

In the issue of location and democratic society: how does one function as a living being within an ecological system? Discussion is no longer being conducted in local terms; instead an identical architecture and an identical system are being introduced world-wide. This leads to loss of the local and regional, the location-specific. And one loses one’s contact with reality, too. In my opinion, there are differences, every place is fundamentally different.

What do you mean by “location-specific”?

If we were to investigate our culinary culture, we would see that in the past, a variety of products were produced in Berlin. This has nothing to do with nostalgia. For example, when one produces cheese here and in Switzerland, one gets two different kinds of cheese. That has to do with local micro-organisms. So for me, the issue of our understanding of culture and nature arises here, and I would therefore like to deal with general problems and a critique of globalisation.

You have exhibited your “PET Bottle” in various spatial situations, in exhibition spaces and outdoor spaces. In what ways does this alter your work?

PET-Flasche - 2008, PET bottle of water, Braunschweig tap water, ground-water, format variable, Tue Greenfort; exhibition view: Linear Deflection, Kunstverein Braunschweig, 2008; © Photo: Alexis ZavialoffArt in public space has been very significant for an expanded concept of art. In exhibition space you can do anything and everything, and it is art. In public space there is no neutral space, so determining whether something is art or not is more difficult there. The version there is more exciting for me. With the “PET Bottles,” I included the park, which formerly belonged to the Braunschweig Art Association, into the entire concept of my exhibition. The issue for me was to investigate public-private partnership and what this means in relation to water as a common property. There is a groundwater surface in the park that is under nature conservancy. I exhibited the bottles there, i.e. threw them over the fence. So there was a location-dependent interface between water as a resource and water as a commodity. The issue was this dissonance: what is actually being sold there?

With your title you address the energy consumption bound up with the production of a PET bottle.

It also reflects a formal experiment at the level of the material. Within an economic system, the issue of material is always connected to the issue of resources. This bottle is precisely the carrier with which water becomes a product. Its dimensions are standardised internationally, 1 litre, a half-litre, etc. At first, the plastic is an abstract mass that is then given a form, whose transparency is in turn interesting because it conveys cleanliness, and one can hardly ever buy water that is not in a transparent bottle. This bottle will not be remade into another bottle; instead it will be reused for all sorts of other polyesters, because one cannot make a new bottle out of it that would be just as transparent. The new bottle would be milk-white. Would consumers buy it? I try to shed light on modes of production, i.e. how technology and production are connected. It’s often the same thought that I am presenting in various medial forms.

You consistently cite formal art-historical references, such as Readymade, conceptual art or Land Art. When refuse becomes artistic material, is your aim to point out our disturbed relationship to nature and consumption?

Tue Greenfort, Diffuse Einträge - 2007 (Detail), modified manure spreading machine, 100 liter tank filled with iron(III)-chloride, water fountain,Container - 17.600 Liter, Container dimension - diameter 2 meter, length 5, 25 meter; exhibition view: Skulptur Projekte, Münster, 2007, © Photo: Roman Mensing artdoc.deFor me, nature is abstract. The concept is more of a projection surface for ideology. The image of nature is used to debate cultural values; nature is the exotic, something one cannot grasp, unlike life within the limits of daily existence. You have to travel to it, go to it. This romantic image is especially often used in automobile advertising. Educating need not always be bound up with some truth or other, but with investigating how a system of values is defined. For instance, we can talk about climate change and human behaviour. It is important to use an expanded concept of nature. Never before in our history have we had the possibility of intervening as unequivocally in the flow of resources as today. We can alter the life circumstances of every other living being, and our own, too. Where are we heading?

Earlier, you termed the “Green Dot” a rhetorical trick. Does this apply to the system as a whole?

It’s just business as usual. Nothing has changed; now it’s called eco-capitalism. The system of exploitation and colonialisation has stayed the same. Michael Baumgart, who wrote Cradle to Cradle together with William McDonough, makes the case for integrating the production and disposal of products into an ecological system. That is a correct approach, but the problems lie elsewhere. The issue is de-politicisation and life-style. We make ourselves dependent on the objects that define us.

Because the system suggests that we consume in an ecologically correct way to save the world?

One can then roll out the ecological narratives: the menace of climate change. The individual is then instrumentalised on a mass scale. All of a sudden, there was also a focus on artists thematising issues in this context, although in fact any artist at all could say something about climate change, including one who paints on polystyrene. For me personally, it is an important point not to be doing business as usual any more, because, viewed in paranoid terms, the last stage has been reached of what is still free and not already defined as a product. I believe that this climate change is the last trick of capitalist development. We are reaching a point where it is claimed that there are only clean, good products that the citizenry will be happy to identify with. Precisely this has been happening since industrialisation began: the perfecting of products. There has been no systemic change.
Vera Tollmann conducted the interview.
She works as a freelance author and curator in Berlin.

Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2011


    Tue Greenfort (born 1973 in Holbæk/Denmark) lives and works in Denmark and Berlin. He studied in Denmark at the Academy of Fünen from 1997 – 2000, and continued his studies in Frankfurt am Main at the Stadelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste from 2000 -2003. In addition to an uninterrupted series of individual exhibitions, he has participated in numerous group exhibitions. Nature and climate was and is one of the central focal points of his works. His last major exhibition was Flambant Neuf in the Johann König Galerie in Berlin; one of his most recent group exhibitions Alter Natur in Z33 in Belgium. In addition to his numerous publications he is also active as a speaker in various art institutions.